When a person finds purpose in what they do, every day is an opportunity just waiting to be explored. In the case of John and Molly Chester, their purpose lies on 214 acres of land just north of Los Angeles. That swath of land, known as Apricot Lane Farms, is one of the most unique places you’re likely to come across. It teems with a life and vibrancy in stark contrast to our hectic, rushed society. In the fantastic documentary The Biggest Little Farm, we get a glimpse into the Chester’s slice of Americana—don’t miss it when it arrives at your theater (opening May 10).
The story opens with a rather harrowing sequence where John and Molly must make a difficult decision as a massive forest fire is bearing down on the farm. From there, we discover the backstory of the couple—John was originally a nature photographer and Molly was an aspiring chef—and why they chose to become part of the farming community. In 2011, with the guidance of their beloved dog Todd, they selected an old avocado grove that had fallen into a state of disrepair. The work was already going to be difficult, but the couple planned to have the farm’s ecosystem reawakened, involving significantly more labor. The top foot of soil needed to be reclaimed and reenergized. Trees needed to be planted based on the lay of the land. A lake needed to be created so wildlife would return to the area. Animals such as ducks, chickens, sheep, and a unique pig named Emma needed to be acquired. Even then, there was no guarantee things would work out.
With the help of Alan York, the farm began to take shape. But for every triumph, there seemed to be a setback. Emma wouldn’t eat after she had a massive litter of piglets. Coyotes decided to feast on livestock after hours. Birds swooped in to partake of the fruit crop. Surprisingly, the Chesters learned that the solutions to their problems simply involved a different way of thinking. Those answers have helped the farm to not only survive but thrive. Today, the farm (really seven farms in one) is incredibly diverse (250 different crops, including a section known as the Fruit Basket containing 80 different varieties of fruit trees). John mentioned they’re “treat[ing] the land as a long-term ecosystem” so it will be able to survive for multiple generations.
My family had the opportunity to take a tour of Apricot Lane recently, and all their hard work is evident from the moment one steps on the farm. It’s not only beautiful, but the crops (such as their Autumn Gold oranges) and free-range eggs are awfully tasty. The Chesters “wanted to capture the story of the farm for future generations,” and I think the documentary did a great job of it. Chester’s penchant for photography is evident, adding a professional feel to their down-home ways. If there was anything I would’ve added, it would’ve been a few more cartoons, as they explained some of the farm’s processes in ways even a newbie like myself could understand.
As we walked to the farm’s garden, John mentioned to me that Apricot Lane is a veritable Garden of Eden. I could envision that. But in order to get anywhere close to what things were like for Adam and Eve, we have to return to a simple life, one that eschews massive quantity for quality and takes care of the environment in a responsible manner. It sure would be fun! Unfortunately, humanity didn’t do a very good job of listening to God’s one simple rule (see Genesis 2:16-17) and threw the whole thing away with a few ill-timed bites. We can get pretty close to Eden 2.0, but it just won’t be the same as the original. But for now, you should give The Biggest Little Farm a viewing—perhaps you’ll feel the same way I do.
A special thanks goes to John and Molly Chester for opening up their farm and Neon for arranging the visit.